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Pet back-up

Most Whistlerites know how an injured limb can lead to back problems. Their four-legged friends aren’t immune either

By Claire Piech

Annie’s downfall is that she loves to play with dogs.

The mixed-breed Squamish resident is particularly fond of body slamming into her fellow playmates.

Unfortunately, at 12 years old, such a pastime is about as gentle on Annie’s dog body as a lifetime of mosh pitting would be on a human’s. Years of cumulative dog-on-dog collisions have caused serious damage to Annie’s spine, including a particularly painful injury near her neck.

Annie’s owner, Stephanie Cannady, started to worry when she noticed how much her dog’s troubling back was affecting her behaviour.

“It got to a point where Annie wasn’t playing with other dogs anymore,” said Cannady.

“I mean, she loves playing with other dogs, but it was getting to a point where she just physically couldn’t anymore. You could see her watching the other dogs, wanting to join in, but being reluctant because the pain in her back was so great,” she said.

After watching Annie sit on the sidelines for too long, Cannady decided it was time to take her dog to a see a chiropractor.

Dr. David Lane is Whistler’s veterinarian chiropractor. Using only his hands, Lane went to work to locate the source of Annie’s pain. He slowly felt up and down the dog’s spine, carefully examining each vertebra in her back for irregularity and paying special attention to areas where she was having the most problem. When Lane found something unusual, he would make a quick, low amplitude thrust to release the tightened area. By the time the 45-minute examination was done, Annie’s back pain was relieved.

“Dr. Lane saw Annie and — BOOM — you could see an immediate improvement in her mobility,” said Cannady about Annie’s visit to the veterinarian chiropractor.

“He said the reason her behaviour was so affected was because her back was all locked up. Once he released it, it really gave her the will to want to go on,” she said.

Lane began practicing veterinarian chiropractics earlier this year, after more than 15 years of regular veterinarian practice. He decided to get involved in the animal spine business after noticing that a large number of animals he was treating in both Whistler and Squamish were sustaining back injuries. Patients with broken legs would develop back problems because of the abnormal posture the broken leg caused. Even after Lane fixed the leg, the animals would continue to hold this abnormal posture, eventually developing a back problem that was often worse than the original broken bone.

“At first, I was only treating the animal’s bone, and then referring the owner to go see a human chiropractor. But it got to a point, however, where I was beginning to see secondary back problems so frequently, that I decided that rather than acting like a surgeon and just fixing one part, I wanted to look at the whole animal,” said Lane.

Veterinarian chiropractors are the medical world’s newest answer to animal back injuries. The field dates back to the 1980s, when a group called Options for Animals was formed. However, veterinarian chiropractics did not gain much recognition until 1986, when the Animal Veterinary Chiropractic Association (AVCA) was formed. The AVCA was the first recognized body of veterinarian chiropractics in the world and established the field as an accepted form of veterinarian practice.

Since its formation, the AVCA has worked towards developing an accredited educational curriculum, general standards of practice, research studies, and general acceptance in the medical world as a legitimate form of animal healthcare.

As awareness of the field continues to grow, animal chiropractic groups have sprouted up across the globe, including the UK and Australia.

The field is gradually being established within Canadian borders as well.   There are at least half a dozen animal chiropractors practicing in B.C., including Lane. However, Canada has yet to develop a formal accrediting body, and the only veterinarian chiropractor certification program in the country was opened in Ontario in 2001.

The demand for chiropractics on animals is surprisingly high in Whistler.   Because of their active lifestyle, Whistler dogs and Pemberton horses are more prone to sports injury than animals in other areas. Injuries can be a result of normal wear and tear, primary back injury, or compensating for a lame limb. In particular, dogs involved in mountain biking, ski touring, sledding, avalanche rescue dogs, and any dogs with pre-existing lameness, are at high risk for chiropractic issues. Moreover, larger breed dogs are more at risk to injury than smaller breeds.

According to Lane, the biggest sign that your dog may need to see an animal chiropractor is lameness. A dog reluctant to jump into your vehicle or noticeably changing foot patterns is probably a result of back pain. Moreover, any animal that suffers from arthritis or broken bones is likely to have also developed a secondary back injury.

The incidence of chiropractic disease is even greater in horses than in dogs. One study, which examined the bodies of horses that have passed away between the ages of 2 and 9, found 100 per cent incidence of vertebral joint degeneration. Performance issues are the biggest indicator that a horse is suffering from back or neck pain, such as failure to pick up certain leads, hesitation while changing gaits or turning, stumbling and irritability.

Most animals need about two appointments with a chiropractor to dispel their back pain. However, each animal is different, and some require more than a few appointments to return their mobility to normal.

“It’s very gratifying,” said Lane of veterinarian chiropractic work.

“It's interesting to see how animals respond when you adjust a key spot; horses will lower their heads and lick their lips, which is a comfort sign, and dogs virtually melt into their owner's hands. Patients that start out snarling and restless at the beginning of the appointment are often mellow by the end,” he said.

He added that the more he practices animal chiropractics, the more he believes that biomechanics should be part of classical veterinarian education.

Cannady agrees. “It was great that Dr. Lane is now doing chiropractic work,” said Cannady. “Originally we were taking Annie to see a chiropractor whose main specialty is humans. I like the idea a lot better of going to see a vet who is trained to work with animals for Annie’s chiropractic work.”

And Annie the dog is doing much better these days. Her back is in good shape and her range of motion has really improved.

“It’s really incredible to see,” said Cannady.